It’s common to think of hearing loss as an inescapable problem connected with aging, or, more recently, as a consequence of the younger generation’s daily use of iPods. But the numbers suggest that the greater problem may be direct exposure to loud noise at work.
In the US, 22 million workers are subjected to potentially hazardous noise, and an estimated 242 million dollars is paid on a yearly basis on worker’s compensation claims for hearing loss, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
What’s more is that higher rates of hearing loss are found in progressively noisier professions, displaying that direct exposure to sounds over a certain level progressively heightens your risk for developing noise-induced hearing loss later in your life.
How loud is too loud?
A study performed by Audicus revealed that, of those who were not exposed to occupational noise levels above 90 decibels, only 9 percent experienced noise-induced hearing loss at age 50. In contrast, construction workers, who are consistently exposed to sound levels as high as 120 decibels, struggled with noise-induced hearing loss at the age of 50 at a rate of 60 percent!
It seems that 85-90 decibels is the ceiling for safe sound volumes, but that’s not the full story: the decibel scale is logarithmic, not linear. That signifies that as you increase the decibel level by 3 decibels, the sound level approximately doubles. So 160 decibels is not twice as loud as 80—it’s about 26 times louder!
Here’s how it breaks down: a decibel level of 0 is hardly perceptible, regular conversation is about 60 decibels, the limit for safety is 85-90 decibels, and the death of hearing tissue takes place at 180 decibels. It’s the region between 85 and 180 that leads to noise-induced hearing loss, and as would be predicted, the careers with increasingly louder decibel levels have increasingly higher rates of hearing loss.
Hearing loss by occupation
As the following table shows, as the decibel levels correlated with each profession increase, hearing loss rates increase as well:
|Occupation||Decibel level||Incidence rates of hearing loss at age 50|
|No noise exposure||Less than 90 decibels||9%|
Any profession with decibel levels above 90 places its personnel at risk for hearing loss, and this includes rock musicians (110 dB), nightclub staff (110 dB), Formula One drivers (135 dB), airport ground staff (140 dB), and shooting range marshalls (140 dB). In every case, as the decibel level rises, the risk of noise-induced hearing loss grows.
Protecting your hearing
A recent US study on the frequency of hearing loss in farming found that 92 percent of the US farmers surveyed were exposed to damaging noise levels, but that only 44 percent claimed to use hearing protection accessories on a day-to-day basis. Factory workers, in comparison, tend to conform to more stringent hearing protection regulations, which may explain why the incidence rate of hearing loss is moderately lower in manufacturing than it is in farming, despite exposure to near equivalent decibel levels.
All of the data point to one thing: the significance of protecting your hearing. If you work in a risky job, you need to take the right preventative measures. If circumventing the noise is not an option, you need to find ways to reduce the noise levels (best attained with custom earplugs), in addition to making sure that you take routine rest breaks for your ears. Controlling both the sound volume and exposure time will decrease your chances of developing noise-induced hearing loss.
If you would like to investigate a hearing protection plan for your personal situation or job, give us a call. As hearing specialists, we can provide tailor-made solutions to best protect your hearing at work. We also offer custom earplugs that, in addition to protecting your hearing, are comfortable to wear and can preserve the natural quality of sound (in contrast to the muffled sound you hear with foam earplugs).